It won't be easy, but without Israel, there can be no meaningful
talks on creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.
The furor over Israel's attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla has
overshadowed a more hopeful recent development.
Two days before the flotilla fiasco, a UN conference aimed at
strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty endorsed a plan
for ridding the Middle East of all nuclear, chemical, and biological
Eliminating all such weapons in the Middle East would seem to be
an impossibly ambitious goal. In fact, it is not ambitious enough.
As planning for a 2012 region-wide conference to discuss a WMD-
free zone begins, the United States must insist on linking it to a
regional peace process. Why? Because Israel, which is widely
believed to possess nuclear weapons, will not abandon its most
powerful deterrent while some of its neighbors refuse to establish
diplomatic relations. And without Israel's participation, there can
be no meaningful talks on creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle
Arab States and Israel have tried - and failed - to address these
issues in tandem before.
In the 1990s, following the Madrid peace conference, regional
arms control and security talks collapsed when Egypt insisted that
Israel's nuclear weapons be placed on the agenda. Israel refused,
unwilling to let go of its policy of nuclear ambiguity.
Why should we expect a different outcome this time?
First, Israel - though still reluctant to engage in any
discussion of its nuclear weapons - faces a looming strategic
choice. Iran's advancing nuclear capabilities are threatening
Israel's nuclear monopoly. Military action against Iran may
forestall Iran's nuclear development, but is not likely to prevent
A nuclear-capable Iran will require Israel to adopt an active,
unambiguous nuclear posture - a dangerous and costly prospect that
Israel would rather avoid. Israel has strong incentives to use
regional security discussions to constrain Iran's nuclear
Second, Arab states are nervous about Israeli-Iranian tension,
fearing both the rise of a nuclear Iran and the consequences of US
or Israeli military action against Iran. They will support the
convening of regional talks that place limits on Iran, address long-
standing territorial issues with Israel, and reduce the chances of
another debilitating war in the region.
Third, Iran has good reason not to spoil regional talks. Joining
a regional process would present Iran with a clear chance to break
free of its growing isolation and demonstrate its peaceful
intentions if they are genuine. …